don’t feed the marmots: ahimsa

You’ve seen marmots, right? I mean, besides holding the title of cutest rodent name, they truly are the cutest. Their little noses never stop sniffing, they bounce down trails like plink-o balls and they steal smelly hiking shoes for snacks. Adorable, svelt, glamorously silver and long legged. I want to share snacks and stories and sunbathe with marmots.

But omygosh did you know you can kill a little furry creature by sharing trail snacks? Consuming human snacks (on purpose or inadvertently) disturbs the natural cycle of sustenance and wild ecology so deeply that one cheeze-it can kill a marmot.

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I was recently reminded of the power of ahimsa (non-harming) during my two week camping trip in the Canadian National Parks. These landscapes are breathtakingly momentous and magnificent. They are pristine; hundreds of miles of wild forests and mountains and waterways are preserved perfectly.

And because Parks Canada treasures their wildlife so deeply, campers are continuously reminded how damaging it is to feed furry critters. I’m an animal lover. My first instinct is to call and cajole and cuddle them… even the ones with sharp little teeth. So I had to pay careful attention to all my actions: I couldn’t and shouldn’t just do whatever I wanted, which mostly consisted of having high tea with marmots and sharing chocolate with bears. I needed to appraise my actions from the viewpoint of ahmisa first.

Ahimsa, which means compassion and non-harming, is the first of the yamas (ethical considerations of yoga, discussed in previous post) and is the cornerstone by which we build and measure all of our actions. Our marmots, our snacks and our yoga practice are all connected.

We learn ahimsa on our yoga mat when we pay attention to the intimate connection of our breath and our emotions and practice in a way that is laced with gentleness and compassion. The more we practice yoga, the more obvious it becomes: we are SO connected with other living beings. And our actions are extremely important because we are a microcosm of the macrocosm.

Deepak Chopra says it so perfectly:

“If you recognize your individuality is intimately woven into the fabric of life—that you are a strand in the web of life—you lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful to others.  Acting from this level of your soul, you are incapable of being violent because your whole being is established in peace.”

And that is how yoga changes the world. We LOSE the ability to act in harmful ways. We are INCAPABLE of violence because we are established in peace in our hearts and truly, honestly, want to choose compassion in each and every way.  Take your next breath and notice: you are sharing this breath with millons and gazillions of other sentient beings and you are one amazingly awesome strand in the web.

Go establish peace amongst yourselves and your marmot friends.

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quick fix: stress free in 60 seconds.

quick fix: stress free in 60 seconds.

You know those days that Nascar past you and leave you on the side of a dusty track feeling confused, jittery and not altogether sound of mind? The well-intentioned words “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll do that right after _____” are lost in the clamor of the day and ‘present moment’ or ‘mindfulness’ seem like ridiculous concepts that only used to matter to you. I definitely have those days. Usually involving surprises like, oh, a circuit breaker blew and the electricity is out, or oh, your colleague is in the hospital and needs all her classes covered or oh, Armageddon is on its way.

These are the days where finding time to meditate seems absolutely impossible because, well, frankly, you aren’t sure when you’ll find the time to even go to the bathroom.

On these days, I use a powerful ‘quick fix’ meditation technique that re-sets my brain as quickly as fixing a blown fuse. It is based on a Kundalini Yoga technique of combining a mantra (repetition of a word or phrase), a mudra (hand position) and breathing in rhythm.

When I’m caught in the whirlwind of activity on a break-neck speed day, I only need about 60 seconds to feel its benefits.


 

“I am peace and calm” 

How to do it:

Touch the first finger to the thumb: “I”

Touch the second finger to the thumb: “am”

Touch the third finger to the thumb: “peace”

Touch the fourth finger to the thumb: “and calm.”

Close your eyes, repeat rhythmically and breathe deeply for 60 minutes.

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“I am peace and calm.” 

Why to do it:

Physiologically, the fine motor movement is a tactile reminder your brain to re-set its cascade of stress hormones and pay attention to the present moment.

Intellectually, the usage of present tense language of the mantra is a reminder you have the capacity to selectively create your awareness.

Energetically, the connection of the finger tips to the thumb creates a circuit that acts as a conduit for the Spirit to feel connected.


Try it here: “I am Peace and Calm”

You may not have 20 minutes for a full meditation practice, but you probably you have 60 seconds.

Happy Stressing Less,

-lisa


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how I ended up on a picnic table.

I ended up practicing on top of a picnic table.

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Seated series… the only place possible.

I wanted to practice outside in the foothills of the Rockies but instead ended up with a soaked slippery Manduka Mat on a dusty cement pad under the only shelter I could find.

One of the basic tenants of yoga philosophy is that our perceptions create our reality. Our misconceptions about something being likable or unlikable, appealing or unappealing, agreeable or disagreeable are what yoga calls ‘mental attachments.’ 

The rainstorm was the perfect example. I really, really wanted to practice the Ashtanga Primary Series outside that ill-fated day. I’d taken two days off from practicing due to strenuous hiking/camping/driving days. I remember trying to fall asleep the previous night feeling so eager to practice poses that would unwind my stiff body; it felt a little bit like Christmas Eve!

But this rain. Afternoon rains are the norm during July in Colorado, not the exception, so I should have taken the encroaching clouds seriously.  I didn’t.  I laid out my well-worn yoga mat in a patch of grass and set up shop with water, pen, pencil and journal.  When the first few raindrops hit, it felt luxurious. (I hadn’t showered in three days, after all.) But I was worried about my journal getting wet so I moved under a tiny shelter by a trail head. I resumed practicing, not realizing that the wind would blow buckets of rain horizontally, barraging my dry cubby hole until I was completely soaked. I picked up my (now covered in bird poop) Manduka and sprinted back to my Subaru. I waited it out for about 5 minutes and read my Yoga Sutras while I waited. From the Yoga Sutras:

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“Mistaken perceptions are wrong impressions that are mired in false appearances.” I.8

And “the single most important thing: things are empty of being what they are by themselves.” I. 42

Is as if these two little threads of wisdom were magic.

My perception of the rain was my responsibility.  The rain was a welcome respite from the summer heat and a blessing to the vegetation in Lory State Park. But in and of itself, it was just rain. 

Miraculously, I wasn’t frustrated.  I wasn’t disappointed, angry or even irritated (again, a miracle).  I was still stoked to practice and determined to find a place where I could do so.

I elected to see the rain from a place of clear understanding and not emotional output, and I climbed on top of that picnic table to practice.  Occasionally I got a few weird looks from other Park goers, but I didn’t care. It was magical. This ancient wisdom helped me take responsibility for my understanding and appreciate the rain for being rain, not as something causing me frustration. These threads of wisdom from the seminal yoga text are what it’s all about.

Over the course of the next few months on this blog, I will be examining Sanskrit terms which are important concepts from the Yoga Sutras. We won’t be learning them the traditional way of call-and-repeat and questioning discourse, but I hope to bring you some insight into the text that started it all. We’ve already talked about our citta (as our heart-mind-connection) in this post and we’ve already learned about purusha (as our Inner Light) in this post. You’ll want to go back and review these posts if you have a free minute. so we can keep moving deeper into the knowledge of the Yoga Sutras.

If you don’t already have your own copy, I suggest The Essential Yoga Sutra by Geshe Michael Roach.

Feel free to send me questions as we go along! Looking forward to learning with you,

-lisa

why are you drawn to yoga?

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My friend Katie (remember her inspirational Earth Day Meditation?) recently reached out to me and asked me: ‘Why are young people drawn to yoga?’  Seemingly easy to answer, right?

She quickly followed with this question: ‘What is it about yoga that quenches their yearning for spiritual practice outside of the institutional religious practices?‘  Slightly less innocuous, but actually, still easy to answer: it’s the same response.

In writing my response to Katie to help her plan conversations at a spiritual retreat, I uncovered a profound clarity that reinvigorated my passion for what I teach. Maybe a one-hour yoga class seems like no big deal (remember that post! ha!) but, you know… it is a big deal.  Students are drawn to their yoga practice because they are looking for a spiritual practice that asks instead of demanding, that brings relief instead of inciting anxiety, and that encourages seeking instead of blind faith.

I thought you may be interested in my answers. It’s not a sermon, you can click away and leave any time you want to; but I hope you read through it all and then ask yourself the same question: why are you drawn to practice yoga?

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“The yearning that attracts students into the yoga practice room is to experience relief.  

In a world increasingly instantaneous, students are accustomed to immediate feedback, results, and reactions. In a world increasingly chaotic, students are continuously assaulted with a barrage of new sights, images, sounds, and demands for their attention. Yoga asks; it does not demand.  Yoga asks the question, “What if all of this went quiet?  What listening would remain?”  The feedback is immediate; the experience of moving into Divine Silence and listening to the innate Wisdom of the Soul offers powerful and immediate relief.  

Yoga teaches that suffering results from the illusory thought that we are alienated from the Divine.  As a yoga and meditation teacher, I see students approach yoga who are yearning to leave behind a fragmented, stressed-out, anxious existence and remember their wholeness. They don’t want someone else to Save them.  They want to be empowered to approach their suffering with peace of mind, with a healthy body, and with an emboldened Spirit. They want to remember what it feels like to be at Peace.  

As a minister, yoga appeals to me because it is spans time, history and faith tradition.  Every single person is welcome and invited; every person can be taught to practice yoga.  My students are 9 months old and 79 years old.  My students are non-verbal autistic children and school principals with Multiple Sclerosis.  My students are single gay men and married professionals mothering 4 children.  My students are healing wounds from years of abuse and my students are offering care as hospice nurses.  My students trust yoga because it does not ask them to suspend belief in the world they live in, it asks them to find Divine in the world they navigate.

As a mystic, yoga appeals to me because I want to be as close to God as possible. Meditation is a practice that anyone can learn and anyone can hone. Meditation offers us what nothing else can: it offers us insight into the inner workings of our mind and our spirit and asks us to be patient with ourselves as we learn to love ourselves again.  Meditation is what Rumi talked about when he said, “I have been a seeker and still am. But I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.”

As an intellectual, yoga appeals to me because it is a science.  The path of yoga, or ‘union’ is dependent on personal experimentation and experience.  If a practice works for you, then stick with it.  If a practice doesn’t speak to you, try it a different way.  This approach makes sense to rational minds and iPhone users who have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. Yoga philosophy is a framework for whole and healthy living that is inspired by thousands of years of collective wisdom.  This framework is simple and straightforward: practice non-harming of all sentient beings, meditate on the Divine, hold every single breath and every single movement as sacred, and you will experience profound relief, peace, and wholeness.  

If you ask my definition of yoga, it will not be textbook.  It will be the answer of the minister, mystic, intellectual, and seeker.  I will say: “Yoga is listening to the small sacred space between my inhale and my exhale where the Divine resides and learning to fill that space with my movement until only the Divine Remains.”  You, of course, will have your own answer.  And that’s what most of us are looking for: a space to ask our own questions and find our own answers.  

still small voice, drawn to yoga

Ask yourself the question: ‘why am I drawn to the practice of yoga?’ and see what answers show up.  Please share with me, I may pass them on to my friend, Katie. :)

Happy Answering,

-lisa

 

 

recover well: 3 drinks for your yoga recovery.

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Second piece of advice in my Summer Recovery Series: DRINK UP.  If it seems asinine to remind you to do something that your body does by instinct: think about your yesterday.  How many glasses of water did you drink between 8:00 am and noon?  How many between noon and 8:00 pm?  Most of us had a few sips when we brushed our teeth in the morning, then moved into coffee, then into tea, then into iced coffee, then… the list goes on.

If you truly want to recover well from your yoga practice (especially if you are sweating it out in the Ashtanga room, where tradition asks us not to drink water during the practice to keep the internal agni (fire) and tapas (zeal) alive) then you need to pay attention to the liquids re-hydrating your muscles and tendons.

3 drinks for your Yoga Recovery

1. Water. That seems pretty simple.  keep-calm-drink-more-waterThe Mayo Clinic suggests an adequate intake of 2.2 to 3 liters a day of fluids for healthy, active adults.  You can always follow the 8×8 rule (8 glasses of 8 ounces) because it is easy to remember.  Drinking water, which flushes the toxins from your system, drastically decreases muscle soreness by moving the lactic acid out of your muscles.  In addition, remember that the connective tissue that covers your muscles, called fascia, tightens into a more dense weave of tissue when it is dehydrated.
If you honestly want your hamstrings to feel good the next day, make sure you drink water before and after your yoga practice.  Ideally, we would all practice in the morning and then drink watetrhave the entire day to re-hydrate.  (And remember to offer Gratitude for every drink of water… there are too many families living in poverty who do not have access to clean water!  If you don’t know much about this crisis, check out water.org or Outreach International and share a few pennies with the 800 million people who need a drink.)

2. Coconut water.  Coconut water has all the important electrolytes that your body sweats out during intense breathing and movement. Most of us DO NOT need sports drinks: these have a huge amount of sugar and other additives that may as well be poison.  Not really, but pretty close.  And if your yoga practice is a part of your overall ‘get fit and toned’ plan, then adding these extra empty calories into your diet is counterproductive.  Coconut water, on the other hand, is tasty, low in calories, and has no added sugars.  It is high in electrolytes like potassium, which is the key point.  I buy ZICO because it was started by a Peace Corps volunteer, both the bottles and lids are recyclable, and it’s yummy.  According to their site, the ZICO_11oz_Natural_225x184biggest bragging point for coconut water as a recovery drink is the naturally high concentration of potassium.       “[Potassium is] an electrolyte (one of five that naturally occur in coconut water, including magnesium, sodium, calcium, and phosphorus) that helps promote hydration and is needed for muscle contraction and function. One bottle of ZICO contains as much potassium as a banana.”  It’s a phenomenal choice for recovery– lactose-free, fat-free, refreshing and easy.  (**NOTE: Stick to the original flavor.  The chocolate and pineapple flavors are not appetizing. Read: super disgusting.)

3. DIY Lemon Recovery Drink.  My favorite trick is to make my own batch of a tasty sports recovery drink from whole-food ingredients.  It’s SUPER easy, and you can adjust the flavor by tweaking the recipe.

Ingredients: lemon honey

  • Water
  • 1 tsp Table salt
  • 1 Lemon
  • Honey to taste

Directions:

  • Quick boil 16 oz of water
  • Add 1 tsp of table salt (for the added electrolytes) and stir until dissolved
  • Squeeze in lemon juice
  • Squeeze in honey and stir until dissolved
  • Store in fridge until it’s refreshingly cold, and drink for a few days!

It’s EASY and delicious and natural. (And doesn’t require any packaging that fills up your recycle bin!)

Ok, try them out.  Let me know which suggestion is your favorite or send me the recipe of your favorite recovery drink.

-lisa